ETS: Endless Trials Service
February 14, 2007 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I took the GRE this past weekend. I have tried to find the percentile ranks for my scores, but (shockingly!) ETS does not make this easy to do. More inside...

Perhaps ETS will send these in the mail, I really don't know, since all they said when I left the testing center was "see ya." My scores were 670 verbal and 410 math (abysmal math, I know). I will be applying for a masters in English Literature. I graduated with a 4.0 and am wondering if my academic record and GRE verbal scores would place me in a category where it would not be unreasonable to apply to some Ivy League programs. What do you think, Metafilter friends? (P.S. Happy Valentine's Day y'all!)
posted by melangell to Education (21 answers total)
They will mail your scores, including percentiles and your writing scores within a few weeks.
posted by muddgirl at 8:26 AM on February 14, 2007

Your 4.0's value depends entirely on which institution you obtained it from.
posted by sid at 8:28 AM on February 14, 2007

They will definitely send those in the mail with your formal report. Every test has a different difficulty, so there's no easy chart to compare the raw scores with the percentile. For one datapoint, (applying to science grad programs three years ago) I think I got a similar verbal score as you (maybe 10-30 points less?) and was in the 85th percentile. My math was 780, and also in the 85th percentile. So it really depends on the difficulty of the particular question set.
posted by twoporedomain at 8:28 AM on February 14, 2007

Your "proper" grade sheet you get in the mail will show you your percentage rankings.

My GRE scores were 650/650/760 (verbal/math/analytical) which equated to something around 85th/70th/95th percentiles.

Lots of smart math people out there (I hate you twoporedomain).

780 math only being 85th percentile is insane. I went to grad school with a couple of 780/800 math people. You're sick I tell you, SICK. :-P
posted by Ynoxas at 8:42 AM on February 14, 2007

From the ETS 2004-2005 Guide to the Use of Scores:

Verbal: 660 - 92% score below
Verbal: 680 - 95% score below

Math: 400 - 11% score below
Math: 420 - 14% score below

FWIW: This chart puts a Math score of 800 at 92%, implying that ~8% of test-takers receive a perfect score. (Damn those engineers and CS majors.) However, I doubt that English literature programs have much interest in your GRE Math score -- not nearly as much as your GRE Literature score.

From my experience applying to English lit grad programs, high GPA and GRE scores are only the first (small) step towards getting accepted. Excellent recommendations, writing/research samples, and a strong personal statement that outlines your scholarly objectives and critical point of view -- those will determine whether or not you're accepted. Grad programs are like exclusive clubs; they're looking for a "good fit," not just the kid with the highest scores. But low scores on your Verbal or GRE Literature could get you eliminated early in the process. YMMV.
posted by junkbox at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2007

That seems awful low for an English program (my friends in English all got in the 700s). Do you think you might do better if you tried again?
posted by myeviltwin at 8:45 AM on February 14, 2007

Year to year norming aside (which is a not inconsiderable caveat), these tests are based on a mean of 500 and a standard deviation of 100. If you know that, you can calculate the percentile.

This calculator isn't exactly what you want, but if you enter M=500, S=100, and Probability (expressed as the percentile rank of interest, in the form of a decimal between 0 and 1), the calculator will output the corresponding score.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:56 AM on February 14, 2007

Wow, I take it back; the norming process has apparently become so heavily influential that the scale no longer bears any relation to the way it was originally constructed. Feel free to ignore my above response.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:02 AM on February 14, 2007

My experience (5 graduate programs, variety of schools, yes it was a long haul) has been that, roughly, average GRE scores are about the same, maybe a smidge higher, at an institution as the average SAT scores. Graduate programs have more leeway to overlook low scores, but the candidates tend to be stronger overall, so it balances out. An Ivy league school may overlook a bad math score, but not with a 670 verbal. That's not impressive enough. Average SATs at an Ivy league are in the high 600s and if someone dips into the 500s it's balanced out with an 800. IMHO, same goes for the GREs, barring some great background story.
If you've got the drive and discipline for grad school, you might want to think about taking the test again. You can train yourself into better scores with a little effort and focus and that would be good practice for the mounds of work needed to do well at grad school, any grad school. Good luck.
posted by dness2 at 9:32 AM on February 14, 2007

melangell, this thread is confusing me as to how often the percentile rank shifts, but FWIW I took the GRE at the end of October, and my 650 was the 92nd percentile. Finding that out when I arrived home made the drive home, rife with tears and desperate Plan B formations, seem a foolish miscalculation. I got 650 Math too, which is lower in percentile by a substantial margin, but as I am applying to non-Ivy Media Studies programs, no sweat. Good luck to you!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:45 AM on February 14, 2007

I made a 470 on math a couple of years ago (no sleep, no studying, long drive, I didn't think though going to graduate school very well and all of sudden had to drive to Alabama to take my GRE) anyhow, a 470 was about 52%. Which sounds awful, but I figure only smartish people take the GRE so doing better than about half of them isn't all that bad.
posted by stormygrey at 9:55 AM on February 14, 2007

Page 13 of this document will give you a rough approximation. 670 and 410 are ~94th and ~13th percentile respectively.

(on preview: that's the current version of the document junkbox references above.)
posted by mendel at 10:05 AM on February 14, 2007

As you'll note in some of these responses, at the lower end especially, doing "a little" better makes your gains much higher.

For instance, stormygrey was 470 and 52% whereas mendel's chart shows 410 at 13th percentile.

With a little work and prep, you could move from 410 to 470 quite easily I would think, unless you are seriously math impaired.

I think it would be very important to not have a score below 500 on either part.

(Is the analytical portion of the test gone? I don't see anyone except myself mentioning it.)
posted by Ynoxas at 10:15 AM on February 14, 2007

Yes the only part I made a 790 on, analytical, is gone.
posted by stormygrey at 10:32 AM on February 14, 2007

Mea Culpa: The second part of my original question was just "flight of fancy." I'm not applying to any Ivy League Universities. I work at a large state university and have only applied to my school's English masters program.

Last year, it was my plan to apply to several different schools around the country, but things change. With my current job, I get tuition assistance (and I LOVE being a state employee after facing the horrors of the private sector) and my husband accepted a job that is critical to his career future. Therefore, we are no longer free to move for a couple years.

I just turned in my application materials and am hoping and praying that I get accepted. It is not my habit to put all my eggs in one basket, but then life has never been defined by my preferences. Thank you, Metafilter friends, for your good advice and feedback.
posted by melangell at 11:09 AM on February 14, 2007

Woah - it's never a bad idea to apply for Ivy league programs. Why not put yourself out there? The worst that happens is they reject you, and you're out a few bucks on application fees and stamps. In the best case, they accept you, and you get the chance of a lifetime. I say go for it - with that GPA, and some good letters of recommendation, you may have a better shot than you think!
posted by chrisamiller at 12:03 PM on February 14, 2007

Depending on your large state university, you might be better off there than at an ivy league. At my particular large state school, my speciality has a number of world-class scholars, some of whom are the very, very best in their speciality. For me, this large state university is the very best place in the world. So it really all depends on who you'll be working with. For grad programs in English, ivy league in no way means better. And if your "state university" happens to be located in California, ivy league is a step down in almost every speciality.

That said, 670 is pretty low for an English lit grad program. Not curse-of-death low, but it might cause the committee to look extra-hard at the rest of your application to keep it out of the reject pile. You want to hit 700 before you breathe easy, and, for English folks, that's still pretty average.

The averages given above are across-the-board, and include many test takers for whom English is a second language. And for engineers, for whom English is still a foreign language. Being in the 94th percentile puts your test score in the (and I'm obviously guesstimating here) 35% of English literature PdD students. Yes, some get in with worse scores, but most get in with better ones. (At the M.A. level, scores will be a bit lower, and 670 might be middle-of-the-road).

Are you going to take the subject test as well? Gird up your loins. You'll easily miss 60% of the questions on the test, feel like a failure and an idiot, and then discover that you're in the 70th percentile. And that test is a more accurate comparison to your fellow English-lit-nerd-aspirants. Being in the 70th percentile there means that you're better than nearly three-quarters of English majors. That's a good feeling.

In short: re-take the GRE. Start your vocab drills now, and take as many practice tests as you can. And start watching every film based on a work of world literature ever made.
posted by terceiro at 1:21 PM on February 14, 2007

I should point out that the essay may be very important, but it varies by school. Were you to discover that you got a 6 on the essay portion, you be best served by sitting on your mediocre verbal and banking on your perfect essay score.
posted by terceiro at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2007

The official GRE practice software, PowerPrep breaks down in handy graphs the percentiles by MAJOR! That was very helpful for me because I was immediately reassured to see that other History majors also suck at math.

You can get Powerprep (it's free) here. Besides the percentile info, it also has a few practice tests which are helpful.

Oh, and don't sweat the math score. Remember, on the whole English faculty can't do math either. A bad math score can easily be dismissed if your verbal score is high.
posted by boubelium at 2:28 PM on February 14, 2007

I find it amusing that everyone says that the math score is unimportant. I sat on the grad admissions committee for a large state CS grad program and I can tell you right now that we would not admit someone with a proportionally low verbal score. It is pretty sad that grad programs in the humanities at presumably good schools let mathematical illiteracy go like that.
Anyway, as others have said, the GRE is a standardized test and like all standardized tests studying for it can greatly raise your scores. And hey, maybe all that high-school/freshman-level math will come back to you a little bit. Couldn't hurt.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2007

My GRE report says

Verbal : 800 (99% below), Quantitative: 550 (36% below),

I think my math results were affected a little bit by taking the paper-based test overseas - anyway, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, you might want to take it again, now that you have some idea of what to expect.

Ynoxas - my report mentions a straight 'Analytical' section, with a note that says "Earned prior to 10/1/02'
posted by Liosliath at 12:25 AM on February 15, 2007

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